> HOLST Planets, Mystic Trumpeter Lloyd-Jones 8555776 [IL]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Gustav HOLST (1874 – 1934)
The Planets (with Colin Matthews’ Pluto, The Renewer)
The Mystic Trumpeter * (ed. Colin Matthews and Imogen Holst)
Claire Rutter * (soprano)
Ladies of the RSNO Chorus and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Conducted by David Lloyd-Jones
Recorded in Surround Sound in the City Halls Glasgow, 17-18 February 2001
NAXOS 8.555776 [75:18]


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There are currently almost fifty complete recordings of The Planets, and numerous others of separate movements of the work in concert recordings listed in the R.E.D. catalogue. A few years ago when I was a regular reviewer specialising in British music, I became so exasperated with having to review so many different recordings of this work, that I pleaded for the record companies to look beyond The Planets and see, for instance, The Cloud Messenger or The Mystic Trumpeter. So I am delighted to welcome, in celebration of Naxos’s fifteenth birthday, a Holst recording that puts The Planets into another dimension in the recordings galaxy. Add to this surround sound and Colin Matthews’ ‘Pluto’ pendant as well as The Mystic Trumpeter of which there is no current recording listed in the catalogues.

I had the opportunity of hearing the climax of this recording of The Mystic Trumpeter at a Naxos fifteenth birthday event in London, this week (4 March 2002) played back on some excellent surround sound equipment. It sounded breathtaking. It sounded pretty good on my more modest Sony TV surround sound system too! The Mystic Trumpeter is an early Holst work dating from 1904 and the influence of Wagner is strong. But typical Holst fingerprints are already discernible and there are even pre-echoes of The Planets. Needless to say the writing for brass is confident and assertive in this setting of the Walt Whitman poem that celebrates the role of the trumpeter in pronouncing war, marking death and subjugation, and sending the spirit flying in love and joy; and Holst grasps every colouristic and expressive opportunity. Soprano Claire Rutter rises to the work's challenges confidently, strongly projecting Whitman’s stirring proclamations over the might of the orchestra.

Colin Matthews’ Pluto is a seamless addition to Holst’s Planets and it is a fitting appendix. It will be recalled that the planet Pluto was only discovered a few years before Holst died and after he had completed his composition in 1917. Matthews alludes to and embellishes material heard earlier, notably from ‘Mars’, for his fierce climaxes. The work ends with a chord from the ladies chorus – although it seemed to die away too soon?

David Lloyd-Jones conducts a very creditable performance of The Planets that can rank with some of the best in the long and auspicious list of recordings in the catalogue. The sound engineering is quite remarkable. ‘Mars’ reaches right out at you and grips you with its drama and violence and Venus, spacious, shimmers in cold yet sweet beauty.

Congratulations to Naxos on fifteen years of splendid achievement. This birthday release in awesome sound is a confident recommendation not least for the inclusion of a thrilling rendition of the early Wagner-inspired The Mystic Trumpeter.

Ian Lace and Grace Lace

Colin Clarke also attended and has listened - but he hears things differently!

Here is Naxos’s answer to Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra’s account of The Planets with Colin Matthews’ Pluto on Hyperion CDA67270. There is certainly little doubt that Naxos cannot match the Keener/Faulkner engineering team: Hyperion has long held esteem in this area, and they need fear no competition here. That the Naxos recording’s range is wide is not in question, but it does seem to be that bit too wide: if indeed one is to hear the opening of ‘Mars’ and leave the volume control unattended, I can only hope for benevolent neighbours!. Perhaps the interpretative problem with this Bringer of War is his strategy: too fast a basic pulse means an unrelenting battering, not an ominous and inevitable demise.

There is much to admire in the orchestral playing later, though: ‘Saturn’ is well sustained, and despite the lack of a certain amount of swagger, ‘Uranus’ becomes impressive later on because of Lloyd-Jones’s intent on bringing out Holst’s wilder side. Listen also to the delicate, silken (rather than thin) violins in ‘Venus’.

The chorus is integral to ‘Neptune’ (Holst’s last completed movement for ‘his’ solar system) and here the Chorus of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra appears strained. Indeed, so does the orchestra, which remains too literal: the (essential) mystic side of Holst is missing.

So to the possibly contentious ‘final’ movement, ‘Pluto’ by Colin Matthews. The listener is plunged in to an immediately and recognisably different world (if you’ll pardon the pun). This Pluto is, appropriately, icier and more inhospitable: Matthews is able (possibly by chronological placement) to enter into more forbidding terrain than Holst. The sudden (re-entry of the chorus at the end makes a textural link back to the original (why only on the fourth listening does it sounds contrived to this reviewer?), but not before Matthews’ own, dramatic and more modern language has made itself felt at the climaxes. There appears to be an ominous, ‘Mars-like’ rumbling present, just below the surface: all planets are, after all, part of the same solar system and are therefore inextricably linked.

The coupling on this Naxos disc is The Mystic Trumpeter, a 1904 setting of (most of) a poem by Walt Whitman. If you would like to compare Holst’s selected text with the complete original, http://www.bartleby.com/142/249.html reprints to whole poem. Claire Rutter, the soprano soloist, bravely takes the piece on and emerges, if not triumphant, certainly impressively. The main problem seems to be that she cannot engage with the ecstatic, exultant, youthful Holst (the orchestra under Lloyd-Jones are much more successful in this). Her voice tends towards the shrill above forte, a shame as there is so much to admire elsewhere: the real arrival-point within piano at the word ‘Paradise’; the way she can float a high note. I for one would have been happier with a less piercing exultation of Love (lines 39-42 of the original poem, 24-27 of Holst’s text) and more security from the high violins in the final meditation on Joy, but nevertheless this emerges as an impressive achievement.

Recommended then, if only to hear The Mystic Trumpeter within easy reaching distance of Matthews’ Pluto.

Colin Clarke


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